Weekend City Picks: San Antonio
Founded by Spaniards, ruled by Mexicans, settled by Germans and influenced by ethnic groups from around the world, the seventh-most populated city in the US has tons to offer: Food, culture, family-friendly fun – there’s a lot to remember about the Alamo City beyond The Alamo.
Home of the famous 1836 battle, this historic fort and living history museum attracts more than 2.5 million people a year. There are tons of free and family-friendly activities on site, but a guided tour is the best bet. Check out the rules before entering the Shrine.
Located a half-hour north of town, the guided tour sends you on a half-mile hike, 180 feet below the surface, for a glimpse at stalagmites, stalactites, and flowstones. Afterward, kids can pan for gems, fossils and minerals, and experienced thrill-seekers can try the guided Adventure Tour which includes rappelling.
The 35-acre zoo has a collection of over 3,500 animals representing 750 species. Locals and visitors rave about the abundant birdlife and the opportunities to feed giraffes, hippopotamuses and other creatures. The Children’s Zoo features rides, a nursery, a playground, and the “Round-the-World Voyage of Discovery’’ exhibit.
The iconic meandering path that hugs the San Antonio River, lined with restaurants, bars, shops and live entertainment, is a quintessential San Antonio experience. Arrive just before the sun sets and watch as the hanging lights start to illuminate the picturesque bridges along the route.
Controlled by the National Park Service and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this “Queen of the Missions,’’ founded in 1720, is not to be missed. Missions were not churches, but entire communities, with the church as its central focus.
A 41-acre oasis of greenery and plant life in the center of the city invites visitors to unplug and soak in the outdoors. Don’t miss the glass Conservatory with plants from around the world in the exhibit rooms encircling the courtyard.
Arts & Entertainment
Built in an abandoned limestone quarry in modern-day Brackenridge Park, the tea garden’s roots date back to 1920. This scenic park – located between the Sunken Gardens and the San Antonio Zoo -- features a lush year-round garden and floral display, stone bridges, a 60-foot waterfall, koi ponds and the historic Jingu Tea House.
Originally commissioned in 1979 by some grandiose Texans in Washington, DC, these oversized boots crafted by artist Bob “Daddy-O’’ Wade moved to San Antonio in 1980. Standing 40 feet high and 30 feet long, at one time they were billed as the World’s Largest Boots. Today, they remain firmly planted adjacent to the Saks Fifth Avenue store at the North Star Mall.
Founded in 2013 on the site of San Antonio’s old Fire Station No. 1, the museum is packed with antique equipment, old photos dating back to the 1880s and nearly half-a-century’s worth of fire trucks. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.
Food & Drink
The latest project from acclaimed San Antonio chef Michael Sohoki focuses on delicate Naples-style pizza and highlights meats cured in-house. Sohoki built his own wood-burning oven, hence “Il Forno.’’ The menu changes with the seasons, but check out the maiale intero, which means “whole pig’’ in Italian, featuring homemade prosciutto, coppa and pepperoni, and layered with housemade mozzarella from local milk.
A new small-batch craft coffee roaster, espresso bar, AND a specialty food and spice shop can all be found under one roof on San Antonio’s East Side. So grab an artisan espresso drink, cold brew, pour over, teas or a unique house-made chai at Estate and then browse Oak & Salt for small batch provisions like hard-to-find salts and spices, crafted-on-site oils and cocktail mixers, condiments kitchen tools and a lot more.
A new joint with a decidedly Old School vibe: “The sounds and soul of San Anto on the St. Mary’s Strip.’’ This low-key cantina honors the city’s Tejano roots, provides a tiny, but packed dance floor when the local legends are performing. Check out the Big Red brunch on the weekends and the free jukebox stocked with classic 45s.
Eating, drinking, dancing – even a dog park – all at this Texas-style eatery featuring smartly tweaked versions of comfort food classics, with a beer garden out back and dancing on the weekends. Check out the King Ranch Classic chicken, sausage on a stick, 3-chili rubbed brisket, twice-cooked wings or the Texas torpedoes (fried jalapenos stuffed with chorizo), and grab a picnic table or a ledge out back amid the live oaks and Astroturf.
The mesquite-grilled chicken rules at this lively, casual Mexican joint on the east side. The half-chicken – crisp on the outside, moist on the inside – is accompanied by frijoles charros, savory rice, a charred onion half, a chile toreado and tender corn tortillas. But don’t miss out on the legendary fajitas or the Norteño burger.
As one of the most happening spots in San Antonio, Pearl Brewery is a historic brewery that has been transformed into a wildly popular dining, shopping and live entertainment center surrounding a boutique hotel. There are grocers (Larder), full-service restaurants (Supper; Il Sogno Osteria; Sandbar Fish House & Market; Boiler House Texas Grill & Wine Garden), charcuterie (Cured), a bar (Sternewirth), a jazz club (Jazz, TX), and a bakery (Bakery Lorraine).
This Southtown institution, specializing in creative New American cuisine, is certainly worth the visit. Whether you’re grabbing a quick bite at the bar, or sharing a large table with friends, don’t miss Mark Bliss’ take on the fried oyster slider – with buttermilk chive biscuits, candied bacon, spinach, brown butter hollandaise and chives.
Enjoy the sights and flavors of old Mexico at this historic outdoor market in downtown. Explore more than 100 locally owned shops, stalls and produce stands at this three-block plaza. Listen for the strains of mariachi music, and live dancers strolling the area.
Known as much for the large boots out front, this Uptown mall features more than 200 specialty stores, including anchor tenants Dillard's, J.C. Penney, Macy's, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Plenty of upscale, casual and fast food options are laced throughout the property.
Constructed on the site of a 1908 cement factory in north central San Antonio, shoppers simply need to look for the four smokestacks to find this open-air lifestyle destination center featuring 60 stores, a 16-screen movieplex, and a dozen fine- and casual-dining options.
Just a stone’s throw from the Alamo, but worlds away. Known as the arts district, this two-square mile stretch is one of the best neighborhoods to visit in San Antonio, for culture and history and to escape the teeming masses in the touristy epicenter. Historic homes, funky shops and art galleries, the Blue Star Arts Complex, excellent restaurants and bars, it’s accessible and walkable -- or a great spot to rent a bike.
Enchanted Rock is a pink granite dome that rises 425 feet above the central Texas Hill Country, but that’s just the exposed part of the largest batholiths in North America. The rest stretches 62 miles, most of it underground. After a hike on the 1.3-mile Summit Trail, leave time for lunch in the nearby hamlet of Fredericksburg, originally settled by German farmers.
There are plenty of options for a daytrip adventure along the Guadalupe River. Kick back in a tube, raft or inflatable kayak for a relaxing trip where you can paddle yourself in a one-person raft at your own pace, or as part of a group, with or without an experienced river guide. For more excitement make sure your itinerary includes a trip over Huaco Falls.
Paddle down the San Antonio River past the Missions National Park by kayak, and navigate the six chutes along the 2- or 3-mile courses. Certified instructors make an easy trip even easier for inexperienced kayakers. Hourly kayak and standup paddle board rentals also available. Tours are booked online or over the phone.